Archive for November 7th, 2013


by J.D. LaFrance

Dead Man (1995) is the western that I always imagined David Lynch directing if he had any inclination towards the genre. It was, in fact, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and marked a significant evolution for the filmmaker thematically while keeping consistent stylistically with the rest of his body of work. Where his previous films managed to avoid any clear categorization, Dead Man clearly resembles a western, however, it still adheres to the road film structure that is synonymous with Jarmusch’s other efforts. Dead Man also continued his preoccupation with outsiders in its depiction of the misadventures of William Blake (Johnny Depp), a meek accountant who travels to the decaying industrial town of Machine with the promise of employment. When he is subsequently rebuffed by his prospective employer, he finds himself on the run after a confrontation with a former prostitute (Mili Avital) and her jealous ex-boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne). Blake ends up with a bullet lodged near his heart and meets a Native American called Nobody (Gary Farmer). Together they make not only a physical journey to the West Coast, but also a mystical, almost metaphysical one as well.

 Jarmusch establishes a disquieting, almost Lynchian tone right from the get-go with sounds of machinery clanking and the steam hissing of the locomotive that takes Blake to Machine. It’s as if the director is suggesting that the Industrial Age is making its way out west, that it is as inevitable as Blake’s journey – a slow march to his own demise. The first (and only) person to speak with Blake on the train is its boilerman played by a coal-stained Crispin Glover who acts and speaks like he just came in from a David Lynch film to take a brief respite in Jarmusch’s. The man speaks rather cryptically, but is actually prophetically describing the last scene in the film. He rather ominously refers to Machine as “hell” and the “end of the line,” warning Blake that he might just die out there before many of the train car’s passengers suddenly fire their guns out the window at passing buffalo. This rather enigmatic prologue sets the mood for the rest of Dead Man and immerses us in a decidedly nihilistic world where life is brutal and short. (more…)

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